Monday, July 5, 2010



One of the highlights of my Independence Day holiday was missing this year; the SyFy Channel (formerly the Sci-Fi channel) discontinued its semi-annual tradition of running the Twilight Zone marathon. For probably ten years, until this one, on the days surrounding Independence Day and New Year’s Day, Sci-Fi ran every episode of that greatest of American television series. One might argue that even the timing of the marathon was perfect: on Independence Day, we reflect on the greatness our nation once exhibited that my, and subsequent, generations, have managed to flush down the toilet in the last twenty or so years. What better way to consider this tragedy than to watch the best series from America’s greatest era and contrast it with the visual horse excrement that currently constipates our airwaves? On New Year’s Day, we reflect on the year, and years, gone by and look toward the future. Rod Serling’s series demands that we look with wistfulness toward that great inheritance that we squandered and with trepidation toward our doomed future. In fact, many episodes of the series predicted the ruin that we subsequently brought upon ourselves. So not only was TZ a great television series, but Sci-Fi’s showing it on these two holidays surely helped one focus, if only in an ancillary manner, on the meaning of those holidays.

But now the marathon is gone; I’m not hopeful that it will run on the days surrounding New Year’s Day, 2011. Several birthdays ago, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a DVD package of about twenty five episodes of the Twilight Zone (one of the best gifts I have ever received) and I could, and doubtless will, watch some or all of those as the “weekend” winds down. I also could rent other episodes from the video store. But it’s not the same as the former Sci-Fi marathon. The element of surprise is gone if one selects the episodes one will watch. It was nice to come home from one of the countless enjoyable holiday activities to turn on the television and discover “Walking Distance,” “To Serve Man,” “A Game of Pool,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” or the ever creepy “It’s a Good Life” on the tube.

One’s first reaction to the discontinuance of the TZ marathon in favor of (get this) The Greatest American Hero marathon. (What does that say about the degeneration of the American mind?) would be something like (quoting yours truly in all his ironic and sarcastic glory):

What? A television series that actually makes you think, that isn’t a discordant series of car chases, car crashes, special effects, and pathetic appeals to mindless and knee-jerk emotion? You have to be kidding; this is America in 2010!”

I suppose those of us who love TZ and the marathon should be grateful that Sci-Fi ran the marathon as long as it did. This greatest of American series, on a par with the likes of Playhouse 90, The Naked City, and The Fugitive, is hopelessly out of touch with an America fascinated by flashing lights, explosions, and poorly simulated sexuality. A network that saw fit to change its name from “Sci-Fi” to SyFy could hardly justify running such an antiquated piece of a bygone era.

Clearly, discontinuing the Twilight Zone marathon was a good business decision. The only time I ever watched the Sci-Fi Channel was during the marathon, and I suspect that I am by no means unique in this attribute. So running the marathon caused much of Sci-Fi’s demographic to go elsewhere while drawing no new viewers to Sci-Fi’s other programming. Advertisers, who see no use for people of my vintage, were probably clamoring for more “youth-oriented” (read idiotic) viewing and demanding the termination of the insufferable, black and white relic of a bygone era called the Twilight Zone. Today’s media and advertising businesses are, after all, obsessed with finding, and appealing to, the lowest common denominator…and making it lower.

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